Reporter's account: The many faces of Grace Poe

Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

Sen Grace Poe, fixes her eyeglasses as she holds a press conference to announce that she is conceding the presidential race to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, hours after the polling precinct closed, Monday. Jay Morales (Poe-Escudero Media Bureau)

It was a scene straight out of the movies, that 'slow clap moment' usually reserved for sports movies. 

The one where the underdog finally gets that elusive moment in the sun. When the talented yet insecure player finally musters up the courage to make the three-point shot at the last second, hit the puck after a triple-deke move or reach the touchdown zone or whatever (I may or may not know anything about American football). The one where the adrenaline-pumping musical crescendos begin. That crucial cutaway where the bleacher crowd stands up and starts to quack in unison because holy crap Iceland is about to win and those pesky ducks need some cheering.

That part where the tinkling piano music is cued to make you feel good because damn it, even through frailty and hopelessness, anyone can uplift themselves into true winners with hearts of gold.

Sen. Grace Poe had that moment early Tuesday morning. 

The woman in white was greeted with cheers from her campaign staff as she stepped inside their headquarters, a few hours after polls closed and elections results came in punishingly quick.

She came there to tell her team — and the country — that her fight is over. She was conceding to frontrunner Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

I covered Sen. Poe when she was appointed MTRCB chief in 2010. I followed her too when she ran for the Senate in 2013, surprising pundits when she topped that race. 

This time was different however. 

I devoted the last six months of my life following her presidential bid — covering her, understanding her and challenging her.

Last night, our work as embedded reporters officially ended. And we had to bid farewell to the many Grace Poes we met in the campaign.

Presidential candidate Grace Poe drops her receipt after voting at the Sta. Lucia Elementary School in San Juan on May 9, 2016. Fernando G. Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBN News

There’s the interview version of Grace Poe. One who is practiced. Paint-by-numbers kind of thing. One who knows when to mention her famous parents, when to appeal to emotions and when to crack the perfect one-liner. One who also has an arsenal of quotes from FPJ’s beloved movies. One careful with phrasing, downright clinical at times. And when all else fails, motherhood statements become clutch.

In debates and sorties, she’s well-researched. The nerdy version of herself shines through. Her public-speaking skills in full display— one who is quick to think on her feet, hitting emotional beats at the right moment and connecting with the audience. Grace understands people.

One of my favorite moments of the campaign happened in Catarman, Northern Samar. Poe was in the middle of a campaign speech in a typhoon-hit covered court when rain began to pour. The roof was destroyed and had yet to be fixed by the local government. 

With rain coming in, Poe didn’t stop talking. She walked closer to the crowd, pressed on and got drenched with the crowd: “Hindi pwedeng kayo lang ang mababasa.”

Presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe is welcomed by supporters in Catarman, Northern Samar, Thursday, April 7, 2016. Allan Penaredondo, Poe-Chiz Media Bureau

Then there’s the Star Trek version of her. She knows how to steer clear from kobayashi maru-type questions. We asked her once how she can accept an endorsement from a convicted plunderer. We ended up talking about her push for the Freedom of Information Bill. 

If pivoting from an issue is an Olympic sport, she’d be a gold medalist.

In the minutes after an interview, we get a more candid version of Poe: the ultimate Tita of Manila. After the cameras stop rolling and the microphones are tucked away, she’d usually spend a couple of minutes with reporters. Topics are as random as survey sampling.

“Ma’am, bakit nawala kayo kanina? Baka may secret meeting ka naman.”

“Bumili ako ng cake doon sa kanto. Pasalubong ko sa anak ko.”

“Shopping and eating sidetrip tayo sa pupuntahin natin. Maiinis lang si Chiz pag di ako nag-concentrate sa kampanya pero we have to enjoy a little.”

“Nung nagpa-tonsillectomy ako ‘nung bata ako, dinala ng tatay ko si William Martinez at Gabby Concepcion sa hospital para hindi ako matakot (laughs).”

“Punta tayo doon.”

“Bakit ma’am?”

“Pa-picture tayo.”

She also has her infamous “taray” moments — her eyes rolling from Batangas all the way back to Virginia. This happens when critics become relentless in their questioning of her citizenship. And when journalists start mentioning her husband or her children — good luck. She once called a reporter a "machine gun." Her death stare is unparalleled too.

The Llamanzares family. Sen Poe' Facebook account

On Monday night, Poe bid goodbye to the embedded reporters. “Thanks,” she said. “No regrets.”

Her concession speech was met with tears from her campaign team--those who clocked in more field time than us, those who spent countless nights planning and mounting her sorties. These are the people who defended her when she was called "inexperienced," a foundling and an "Amgirl" [American girl], her loyal staff who had to deal with a demanding set of reporters assigned to cover Poe’s campaign trail, the same people who tirelessly believed in her effort to change the status quo.

It was a concession, yes. It was an admission that they lost. That even after all the sacrifices and political maneuverings, they don’t get to wear the crown and wave to the crowd.

Yet last night was far from a pity party; more of a congratulatory one. A night of solid pat-on-the-backs followed by “Good job, everyone. We fought a good fight” sentiments. None of that “What went wrong?” business.

The night was more cathartic than forensic. And I think it’s because of how Poe — or “mudrakelz” as they called her — carried herself in defeat.

It’s a version of her that has remained constant in the campaign: full of grace.

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